Monday, February 6, 2012

"Moral injury": one of the often overlooked psychological effects of war

One of the highlights the Friday morning meetings of ICUJP (Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace) are the insightful and thought-provoking reflections by members of this remarkable group.

During a recent Friday Rev. Ignacio Castuera, a retired Methodist pastor  deeply involved with process theology, gave a reflection connecting the Gospels to recent psychological research relating to war.  Alluding to this week's Christian lectionary, which lifts up passages in Mark describing Jesus as a healer and exorcist, Ignacio made the following observations about demonic possession and the psychological and moral damage that war inflicts on soldiers:

Demon possession is understood today by most progressive scholars as a natural reaction of occupied and oppressed peoples. The Palestine of Jesus time experienced the brutal presence of Roman forces and demoniacs often refer to the demons in their heads and hearts as "us" and in a very specific case in Mark 5:9 as "Legion."

What has not been so clearly understood is that demon possession also happens to the occupying forces, be they US soldiers or Israeli forces in Occupied Palestine. Recently we are seeing more interest in the demon possession of the people who have been forced by combinations of personal circumstance and governmental policies to be in living hells, issuing unjust orders and enforcing cruel dictates.

Rita Nakashima Brock and Gabriella Lettini are about to publish a book that gathers years of research on what they now identify as "moral injury."

 An article in the Washginton Post describes this syndrome:
Every day brings us new stories of soldiers affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which the VA posits as affecting one in five soldiers. What is less known is that in December 2009 a group of VA clinical psychologists, led by Dr. Brett Litz, identified moral injury as a wound of war, distinct from PTSD, that is rarely addressed.
The groundbreaking study suggested that PTDS does not fully capture the moral and spiritual distress of moral injury, which is especially connected with a sense of transgression of the moral order. While PTSD may accompany it, moral injury is not a medical or pathological condition, but a spiritual and moral issue.

The Litz study defines moral injury as resulting from "perpetrating, failing to prevent, or bearing witness to acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations." The long-term impact can be devastating at the emotional, psychological, behavioral, spiritual and social level, wounds that can last an entire lifetime. Moral injury can be found in internal conflict and self-condemnation so severe that the burdens become intolerable and lead to suicide. People may lose their core system of beliefs and values and reach a point of not being able to make sense of life and human relationships. What people believed about the world, humanity and themselves no longer rings true. (For more, see .com/onfaith/guestvoices/2010/11/the_moral_injuries_of_war.html
Ignacio Castuera was born in the State of Puebla in Mexico. At 13 was the first member of his family to "convert" to Methodism. Migrated to California in 1960 and holds a doctorate in Religion from the Claremont School of Theology. He is currently the Director of the Latin American Project of the Center for Process Studies in Claremont.

1 comment:

  1. Great article. Thanks for sharing this. It's great to hear a report of what's happening at the ICUJP meetings for those who cannot attend those meetings.